‘The Final Season’ lacks baseball focus

Anthony Capps

In the small Iowa town of Norway, baseball is king.

However, school conglomeration threatens to bring that to an end.

“The Final Season,” starring and produced by “Lord of the Rings” hobbit Sean Astin (who must be banking on another “Rudy”), struggles to find a suitable balance between being anti-school conglomeration and depicting a love of baseball.

Through the opening scenes, with its lighthearted music, the film sets up the Norway community with small-town streets, trains and several views of cornfields. I’ll try to keep away from the numerous corn jokes here.

This based-on-truth story of Norway’s final school year after 19 baseball championships casts the school administrators as antagonists who intend to merge with the larger neighboring school district to save taxpayers’ money and cave to the high demands from the state.

Since the town revolves around baseball – similar to the way Odessa, Texas, feels about football in “Friday Night Lights” – these administrators oust legendary coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe) and bring aboard the inexperienced Kent Stock (Astin) in the hope that he will falter as coach and the community will quit supporting baseball.

In that scenario, the thinking goes, the school merger will be more welcomed by the town, currently hot-tempered over the idea.

Throw in the subplots – Tom Arnold’s rebellious Chicago teenager brought to live with his Norway grandparents, Rachael Leigh Cook as a school board employee who falls for Stock and several other characters who get a few minutes in the spotlight – and you can see the cliches and storylines before you make it to the theater.

And that prevents baseball from getting the proper limelight.

The movie tries to tackle too much and, even in its two-hour runtime, it leaves the characters wooden and the storylines underdeveloped.

The main problem stems from the fact that it spends too long establishing Coach Van Scoyoc’s talent and his last season, and therefore takes too much time to get to the eponymous final season.

By the time we get to those championship games, the movie becomes a crowd pleaser – it is just the matter of whether you still care by this point.

Director David M. Evans employs some of the techniques he used in “The Sandlot,” creating some well-done baseball scenes, even though you know how it has to end. For the most part, those scenes, including the practice scenes, are quite entertaining.

The music, however, is too much on the sentimental side and obviously borrowing from “The Natural” and Iowa’s other baseball movie, “Field of Dreams.” It feels too forced and is too good-natured.

One bright spot and difference that “The Final Season” has is its lack of inspirational pep talks. There are just a few one-liners, all of which fundamentally depend on the sentiment of “It’s the final season, how do you want to be remembered?”

But even if you don’t mind numerous cliches and knowing virtually the entire sequence of storylines ahead of time, this one can more than likely be viewed at a later time.

And, what do you know – not one corn joke.

– Anthony Capps is a sophomore in journalism and mass communication from Oskaloosa.